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Fall 1986 · Vol. 15 No. 2 · pp. 4–7 

A Pastoral Letter: A Call to Reason Together

Herbert Brandt

The General Conference Board of Reference and Counsel is charged with the spiritual oversight of the Mennonite Brethren churches in Canada and the U.S. They have submitted the following pastoral letter to the pastors and moderators of every church in the two countries and to their respective church periodicals, the Christian Leader and the MB Herald. The issues raised in this letter will be discussed at a special study conference which will convene Oct. 15-17 in Fresno, Calif.

“We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers” (1 Thess. 1:2).

In recent meetings of the Board of Reference and Counsel it has become clear to us that an overall assessment of the spiritual welfare of our churches and our conference is not only necessary but urgent. In our prayers and reflections we have sensed a call to challenge our leaders to reflect seriously upon changes and trends that affect the life of our conference. At times we have talked about “putting the current agenda on hold” in order to see more clearly the larger issues which should engage us. We have prayed for vision and guidance regarding the life and mission we believe the Lord has graciously given us. Although some situations and trends seem disturbing, we have hope.

It is our intention to share some of our thoughts, observations and concerns with you. Trusting in the Spirit’s guidance, we also want to share some directives for the future. {5}


First, we as Mennonite Brethren are in a time of change and transition. This is especially evident in several areas. A most obvious change is in our growing ethnic diversity. Historically, we were people who shared a common ethnic and cultural background. We had a similar heritage, with familiar family names. Our ethnic background formed a kind of “glue” which held us together, and still does in some of our fellowships. However, this aspect of commonality is changing rapidly. Our deep commitment to evangelism and mission is leading us into a new era. We are now adding to our membership people of various religious backgrounds, and new believers who have no spiritual background. Hence that which binds us together now is no longer our background, or our surnames, but a much stronger “glue,” namely the unity and love that prevails in the true family of God. We now need a new and larger sense of “peoplehood,” a sense of peoplehood which is based on faith in Christ Jesus our Lord which makes us all one in him. His love shed abroad in our hearts makes us one, whatever our background. We must strive for a new sense of church community. Our identity is in Christ, not primarily in any particular culture.

Another change which we see evident in our churches is a diversity in theological thinking. While we believe ourselves to be a strong Anabaptist-Evangelical church, there appears to be a lack of clarity as to what that means. Various interpretations and emphases are offered. In addition to these we are exposed each day to divergent views via mass media, TV, radio programs and religious teachings.

The result is that we are no longer clear what “the church,” and particularly the Mennonite Brethren Church, is all about. These factors cause us to recognize with a sense of urgency the need to redefine our understanding of the nature of the church.

Another observation we have made, as a board, regarding our church life, deals with the issue of authority and commitment. This includes both leadership and followership. We see an erosion of churchly authority and a weakening of personal commitment, not only to the local church, but also to the conference. A strong trend toward individualism, both personal and corporate, has set in and seeks to challenge both authority and personal commitment.

Regarding our loyalty to the conference we ask the question: How much heed do we give to conference decisions and {6} positions? Do we agree on a resolution position at conference sessions and then go home and go our own way? We have asked ourselves what is the conference (at whatever level) really for? Is it there to pass down resolutions only or to build faith and unity?

In this regard we want to share our conviction that our conference format and purpose must be changed in order to become more faith-building and supportive of the churches. Our conviction is that we are a conference of churches and therefore cannot fulfill our mission when we are self-directed and act independently of each other. Total local autonomy, for all intents and purposes, is dividing us.

Another concern we have deals with our personal commitment to the local church and to the denomination of which we are a part. This commitment or absence of it, affects our service, our orientations, the giving of our tithe and our faithful participation in the church’s ministry.

The challenge before us is to capture the vision and mission God has given to the Mennonite Brethren people. There is no doubt that we are facing a new era as a conference. For that we need a new vision, born of the Spirit of God. Gratifying, of course, is that already in many places in our land and abroad our church is very alive and people are being brought into the saving experience with Christ.

On the other hand, many churches are bound by tradition, ethnicity, and a kind of in-grownness which makes it difficult to reach and accept people from outside the church family. What is needed is a community-minded compassion and dedication to evangelism and mission for Christ’s sake.

This vision, new for this era, but the same vision our founding fathers had, includes the praying out and calling out of more full-time workers from within the local congregations. Our denomination is currently not calling out and preparing enough pastors to lead the churches we have. Among us are flocks without shepherds. This is a new phenomenon for Mennonite Brethren. And this fact does not even speak to the need for leaders of new churches and new mission fields which we anticipate. We will need to pray more earnestly that the Lord of the harvest send out workers into his harvest!


As the Lord leads us into the future, we sense God’s call to greater faithfulness. In order that we may come to a deeper {7} understanding of the issues before us we invite your counsel and insights as we seek the spirit’s guidance together in the shaping of the future of the Mennonite Brethren Church. The following areas appear to us as being strategic in the shaping of the future.

  1. The call to live as a covenant community. We encourage churches to live as a covenant people who reflect doctrinal and ethical unity, who engage in regular and careful study of our Confession of Faith on the local level, and who practice faithful stewardship in the local church and carry out their commitments to the conference.
  2. The call to meaningful and responsible church membership. We exhort churches to seek further clarity and unity on the meaning of conversion and baptism, greater openness to receiving and integrating people from non-Mennonite backgrounds, and a deeper integration of faith and life.
  3. The call to faithful ministry in the church. We challenge churches to address diversity of pastoral leadership styles now being practiced, affirm the ministry of women in the church, define a position on the leadership roles of divorced persons, clarify the meaning of ordination and review the practice of rebaptism for ordained persons.
  4. The call to renewal within the church. We encourage churches to seek the power of the Holy Spirit in the vision building and the shaping process of the church in the future. We are concerned that Mennonite Brethren people be open to the Lord of the church and to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We recognize that he has gifted the church with adequate spiritual gifts to do service in the kingdom. We do not desire to circumscribe or quench the work of his Spirit.

To continue our further reflection and study of our situations in the Mennonite Brethren Church, the Board of Reference and Counsel of the General Conference is in the process of preparing a vision statement in consultation with church leaders which will guide us in prayer for revitalizing the ministry of the Mennonite Brethren Church.

We definitely sense a spiritual renewal taking place and in the larger body of Jesus Christ. We pray that this movement will touch all of us.

Herbert Brandt on behalf of the Board of Reference and Counsel,
General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches

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